During Memorial Day weekend, hundreds of tourists and locals flock to the most beautiful areas in Northern Michigan. There are several ways to get to Northern Michigan. Typically, we take I-96 to get to Traverse City, which is all highway, fast food restaurants, and casinos. Honestly, not the prettiest route to take. The second, is taking the scenic 116 mile state designated highway, called M-22. Some may consider this the ultimate road trip to Northern Michigan. This scenic drive traces the coastline, which highlights Michigan’s beautiful beaches, orchards, vineyards, dunes, and rolling farm lands. While there are tons of fun activities to do during your scenic route to Norther Michigan, we are highlighting some of the best trails and wineries in Empire, Michigan.
On our way to Empire, we decided to cross off one of the best places to stop off our list. As we drove through the tiny town of Arcadia, we stopped at the Arcadia scenic overlook, also known as Inspiration Point. Once we were parked, we were greeted with a 120 step (80 vertical feet) climb to the top outlook point – It’s easier than how it looks. Once we got to the top, the turquoise waters, and view of the coast is a breathtaking view. Totally worth it.
After Arcadia Outlook, we drove through Crystal Lake, which is adjacent to the southern reaches of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The lake got it’s name because the water is so crystal clear. This is due to the low watershed that feeds Crystal Lake, and fertilizer and sewage outflows are minimal, leading to the clear and beautiful water. This is a great place to rent a cabin, have bon fires, and enjoy the scenery.
Once we reached Empire, we were surprised to see a quaint, bustling town with beaches, chocolate stores, and the Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitors Center. Empire and Glen Arbor are home to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, which encompasses several trails, dunes, and beaches. Here, you can explore all sorts of wild life and scenic overlooks, while getting your workout in. Our first trail was Empire Bluff. This trail is filled with hilly terrain, fields, and sand. The trail leads to a high bluff, overlooking Lake Michigan.
This trial took us 1.5 miles, although we felt it was much longer due to the fact that we ended up hiking up an entire dune! Anything for this best views. After getting to the Empire Bluff Overlook, we gazed upon a spectacular view of Lake Michigan shoreline and South Bar Lake.
After hiking our first trail, we decided to check out the Lake Michigan Overlook. This overlook is 450 feet above Lake Michigan, which provides a magnificent view of the shoreline and is only 4 miles away from the Empire Bluff Trial. My advice would be to take the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, which is a 7.4 mile drive loop through the Beech Maple forest and sand dunes. As you ascend uphill into the green forest, you can stop at several different outlooks that the national park has to offer.
This is a view of Glen Lake from the Glen Lake Overlook stop on the Scenic Drive. This view was magical. As a Michigander, I feel as though we take a lot of these opportunities for granted. We have these options to hike, fish, and exercise in some of the most beautiful parks in the world. It is truly a sight to see!
One of the most jaw dropping views on the Lakeshore is the Lake Michigan Overlook in the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. Bring a chair, or sit on the sand and take in the sights. There is also an observation deck at the Lake Michigan Overlook, which is 450 feet above lake level. The angle to the lake is very steep, and I recommend not venturing down to the lake as it can be very dangerous. If you want to hike a dune, visit the Dune Climb. Located just 5 miles north of Empire on M-109, where visitors can spend 3 to 4 hours hiking this massive dune. If hiking a massive dune isn’t for you, then I recommend biking parts (or for those that are adventurous) all of the 27 mile Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.
After getting our days worth of exercise we visited Glen Arbor, which is only 10 miles north of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Here, you can rent a bike or kayak at Crystal River Outfitters, which offers scenic kayak tours around Sleeping Bear Dunes!
M-22 is an iconic staple in Northern Michigan, so I thought it would be fun to try to find some M-22 merchandise that I could take back to Muskegon. As we drove through Glen Arbor, we saw all sorts of restaurants, wine bars, ice cream shops, and an M-22 store! Of course, I have to incorporate shopping into this trip.
As I went inside, I was greeted by a very friendly sales person who was able to help me find two M-22 glasses and a bottle of wine. She informed me that in collaboration with Black Star Farms Winery, they have over 16 wines and 2 Hard Ciders for the M22 brand available for purchase. They offer a little bit of everything, from Bubbly, Riesling and Pinot Noir, to a Rose and Cabernet Franc. I bought the Pinot Noir Rose. Perfectly dry, but fruity in taste. The M-22 store also had a M-22 wine bar to try different tastings, and an outdoor patio to enjoy a glass of wine outside.
After visiting the M-22 store, we found another wine bar called, Glen Arbor Wines. This cute tasting room and wine bar offers some of the most popular Glen Arbor made wines to taste. If you are looking to explore more of what Michigan’s Wine Country has to offer, visit Traversecity.com to learn more about the Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula.
I hope that you enjoy this time to be outdoors and with those that you love!
Until next time.